What is Task-Oriented Leadership? Keeping Detailed Projects on Schedule

Defining Task-Oriented Leadership

If something must get done within an organization and it has to be done right, a task-oriented leader is best for the job. Task-oriented leadership is a large-scale project manager. This person can break down a project into its component parts, create the project timelines, and ensure that milestones are met. Task-oriented leaders are focused more on end results than specific roles or the overall mission of the organization.

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Task-oriented leadership defined

Task-oriented leadership focuses on completing a job. It concentrates on the tasks that have to be done, rather than who is doing them. This leadership style emphasizes structure, plans, and schedules. Other elements of task-oriented leadership include:

  • Creating detailed plans and schedules
  • Prioritizing goals
  • Constantly reviewing tasks to ensure the project is on track
  • Setting and sticking to tight schedules for all aspects of the project
  • Reviewing all of the elements of the project with the employees

Task-oriented leadership is a management style that was developed by academic researchers. It combines task-oriented management and leadership. In business school, management is defined as the hard side of projects, such as breaking down a goal into its constituent parts, creating task lists, evaluating personnel requirements and costs, and defining financial impacts. By contrast, leadership is defined as the ability to manage people.

Task-oriented leadership vs. task-oriented management

Task-oriented management takes care of coordinating work activities, managing administrative chores, and preparing financial outlooks and reports. Task-oriented leaders  are responsible for making decisions and setting short-, medium-, and long-term goals. This leadership role may include employee training as part of its job description.

What is task-oriented leadership? Perhaps the most concise definition of task-oriented leadership is “doing whatever it takes to get the job done.” The approach tends to be autocratic and emphasizes completing tasks required to meet organizational goals.

Differences between task-oriented leadership and other leadership styles

There are major differences between task-oriented leadership and relationship-oriented leadership.

Task-oriented leadership is focused on:

  • Completing the project at hand
  • Effective goal-setting and a clear path to complete objectives
  • Schedules and deadlines
  • Structure, roles, and goals
  • Producing desired results

Relationship-oriented leadership emphasizes:

  • Satisfaction, motivation, and well-being of workers
  • Facilitating positive, productive interaction between colleagues
  • Teamwork and clear communication
  • Team-building meetings and exercises

History of task-oriented leadership

In the 1940s, leadership research moved away from looking at individual leadership components and toward analyzing its effects on workers. In several studies, results from task-oriented versus relationship-oriented leadership proved to be mixed.

In 2006, a meta-study compared research on a wide variety of theoretical and empirical management techniques. The results showed that the task-oriented leadership style was not as effective overall as some other styles.

Examples of task-oriented leadership

Project managers, especially those who are building ships or skyscrapers must be task-oriented in order to manage vendors connected to bills of material and all of the detailed project timelines. Architects and engineers are also required to use the same set of skills.

Architects work both in building design and the components that make up their structures. Most often the designs are extremely detailed and meticulous in every aspect. The bills of material that go into constructing a structure can be extremely long and complex. Creating cost estimates from these bills is an art.

I.M. Pei

Pei is one of the most famous architects in the 20th century. He is best known for designing the Louvre Pyramid and the John F. Kennedy Library. During World War II, he suspended work at Harvard to join the National Defense Research committee. His eye for design and his grounding in architecture made him an ideal task-oriented leader.

Frank Lloyd Wright

In 1991, Wright was recognized as the “greatest American architect of all time.” He is best known for his work in the Prairie school. He designed over 1,000 buildings.

Gordon Moore

Moore was a visionary engineer and researcher who created the formula known as “Moore’s Law.” He observed that the number of components on an integrated circuit would double every year. Later he revised that estimate to every two years, which is known as Moore’s Law.

Moore, William Shockley, Sherman Fairchild and others started Fairchild Semiconductor, which was the incubator for many of the semiconductor companies that built integrated circuit boards to power computers and other electronics. Moore was a consummate engineer whose mind was focused on the micro-world of circuits and managing people the highly structured and organized engineers who built them.

Task-oriented leadership quotations

  • Frank Lloyd Wright: “I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”
  • I.M. Pei: “Success is a collection of problems solved.”
  • Gordon Moore: “I remember the difficulty we had in the beginning replacing magnetic cores in memories and eventually we had both cost and performance advantages. But it wasn’t at all clear in the beginning.”
  • Jim Collins: “Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.”

Task-oriented leadership style requirements

A task-oriented leader places a heavy emphasis on structure, plans, and schedules for getting things done. The task-oriented leadership style might include:

  • Step-by-step planning and reward or punishment systems
  • Constantly defining structure and goals
  • Prioritizing achievement of specific outcomes
  • Sticking to rigid schedules
  • Requiring employees to set process-oriented goals and formulate plans to achieve them

Here are some characteristics of a skilled task-oriented leader:

  • Clear understanding of end result
  • Ability to structure a project
  • Dissect project requirements
  • Stay on schedule no matter what

Advantages and disadvantages of task-oriented leadership

Task-oriented leadership pros

  • Clarity of purpose
  • Precise task definition
  • Coordinated work groups
  • Strict schedule adherence
  • Little or no room for ideas or suggestions of others

Task-oriented leadership cons

  • Lack of creativity
  • Low employee morale
  • High employee burnout and turnover
  • Can lack attention to the well-being of team members

Benefits of task-oriented leadership

Task-oriented leadership is best used in environments where products or services are complex and require many complicated, integrated projects or when strict organization, attention to detail, and meeting milestones are important.